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Thread: Need advice on relocation, career, and academia

  1. #1

    Need advice on relocation, career, and academia

    Hi all,

    I've only posted here once or twice, but frequently read the posts to gain some perspective on career issues. I'm hoping some folks can shed some light on my situation.

    I've been in my current position as a Transportation Planner for over two years and really like my job, I work with great people, etc. But, it's a small (though progressive) town and I would eventually like to get to the SF Bay Area or somewhere else on the west coast. My wife would REALLY like to get out there now to be closer to family, to the point where we're considering just moving, without a job lined up. I'm really reluctant to do this, as career-wise, my current situation couldn't be better and I feel that eventually I'll land a position under the right circumstances. I'm one year away from AICP, which would be jeopardized/postponed by quitting my job now. I have been looking for jobs and had two preliminary offers in CA that both fell through due to hiring restrictions.

    In addition to the idea of moving and finding a job, I'm considering going back to school as a way to get out to the west coast, but I already have a master's in Public Affairs and don't want to do a phd. I'm considering a second masters degree in Planning, Landscape Architecture, or even Information Systems.

    A Planning degree would mostly be to increase my appeal to future employers, but not so much for personal knowledge, as I already have a good enough handle on the Planning issues that I care about. LA would give me a broader skill set and open me up to new career possibilities, but would definitely be more work and time than the other degrees, and I'm not at all interested in the idea of working for a developer (a planning consultant would be fine). My thought is that with an LA degree I could still be a municipal Planner (especially a bike/ped planner, which is what I currently do), but the reverse is not true. Finally, the Information Systems degree would be to tap into the emerging blend of Planning, Public Participation, and web technologies. Jobs specifically along these lines are limited, but the potential for some really interesting work is there and I already have some background in web development.

    Anyway, I don't have a specific question, but would welcome any thoughts on the tradeoffs between the various paths and issues mentioned.


  2. #2
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
    Aug 2006
    Gone to a better place (in my mind)
    I've worked with many "planners" who actually have a degree in public policy, so I see no reason to get a second master's in planning. Besides, I think you would be very disappointed to see how little practical information you learn in a planning program. You already know more than they can teach you.

    As for LA, I think this would be a great idea. Design is one of the few skills you can only learn in an institutional setting, so taking the time to go back to school full-time for a design degree would not be wasted. Having design skills in this brave new world of design guidelines and new urbanism can only be a good thing. I think there is a great demand for planners who can understand design issues. There is no need to work for a developer as an LA, I'm sure that there are many public jobs that would be happy to hire a dual degree Planner/LA, plus lots of planning firms make good livings doing parks and recreation planning, which has a large design element.

    As for sticking around one more year for your AICP, why not? In the grand scheme of things, one year either way won't matter, but having an AICP might.

    As for moving without a job, not in this economy. Not unless you have many, many months of savings that you are willing to burn through before you find one.

    Finally, no matter what I or anyone else thinks, remember these important words: "Happy wife, happy life."

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    If you are serious about moving, I would recommend staying the extra year and getting your AICP while you scope out the situation. I would NOT move now without a job, especially to a market where you are not a known quantity. One dynamic I think is going on right now in almost all job areas is that the competition is extremely high, including folks that have come out of or postponed retirement because they need work. Many of these people are desperate and not above taking a job that would otherwise be beneath them. Its going to be hard to compete with older planners that have 20 some years of experience...

    Not to be all doom and gloom, though. I think a year is a reasonable timeline to start applying to some jobs, sending letters out, getting the lay of the land, etc. Especially if you have a house to sell.

    As for going back to school, that's really got to be your own decision. I have two Masters degrees so I'm in no position to discourage future schooling. But as JimPlans says, I'm not sure, given your experience, that your increased marketability from school will justify the expense, especially if you are taking out loans. Just something to consider. I think others see school now as a way to invest in new skills during a weak hiring period in the economy and that is also a valid argument.

    One thing that I found about going back to school later in life (and in a new area from my previous experience and background) is that even though I have an extra decade of experience, its at times hard to apply that experience (which is not in planning, but more generally in program and project management) to enter positions at a higher level. This can be frustrating and is worth taking into account. Even if you exit with an LA degree, if you want to work as an LA, you will have to work to convince potential employers that the transportation planning experience is applicable so you don't come in as an entry level employee.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Mar 2009
    Salt Lake City, UT
    One thing to take into consideration. California, because of its size and the amount of development work, is different than other states. In California, landscape architects principally do landscape architecture. It is one of the few states where there is enough landscape architecture work to sustain the industry without having to do planning work as well. If you get a LA degree in California you will most likely not be doing planning work with it. It would be better to get a Masters in City Planning or something similar that stresses urban design versus policy planning.

  5. #5
    thanks everyone for the thoughtful remarks!

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